Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 22, 2011

Gingrich Flunks Right’s “Not Romney” Test on Immigration

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy managed to touch on a number of important issues, including Iran’s nuclear threat and the prospect of defense cuts. But the most significant moment of the evening came when Newt Gingrich took a stand on immigration that undermined the assumption that he can be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. By stating his support for a policy of selective amnesty for illegal immigrants in this country, the former speaker may have brought his stay atop the GOP field to a close.

Gingrich came into the evening riding high in the polls with some surveys showing that he was now getting much of the Tea Party support that once belonged to Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann during their brief moments at the head of the field. Though Gingrich was right to point out that it is unrealistic and unjust to speak of expelling all 11 million illegals, by stating his support for a path to allow them to stay in the country, he gave Romney the opening he needed to remind conservatives that he is actually to the left on them on a number of major issues.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy managed to touch on a number of important issues, including Iran’s nuclear threat and the prospect of defense cuts. But the most significant moment of the evening came when Newt Gingrich took a stand on immigration that undermined the assumption that he can be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. By stating his support for a policy of selective amnesty for illegal immigrants in this country, the former speaker may have brought his stay atop the GOP field to a close.

Gingrich came into the evening riding high in the polls with some surveys showing that he was now getting much of the Tea Party support that once belonged to Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann during their brief moments at the head of the field. Though Gingrich was right to point out that it is unrealistic and unjust to speak of expelling all 11 million illegals, by stating his support for a path to allow them to stay in the country, he gave Romney the opening he needed to remind conservatives that he is actually to the left on them on a number of major issues.

This is the same land mine that Rick Perry stepped on back in September when he was slaughtered by Romney and the other candidates for his willingness to give in-state university tuition discounts to the children of illegals. Perry never lived down his answer that those who opposed him “didn’t have a heart.” But by actually saying the dreaded “amnesty” word — albeit in the course of a typically professorial lecture about Ronald Reagan’s own support for such a measure that Gingrich backed when he was in Congress — the former speaker actually went much deeper than Perry did.

Perry made sense on this issue, as did Gingrich tonight. But the consequences for Gingrich should be swift and severe. If Perry’s heresy on immigration hurt him badly in Iowa, there’s no reason to believe an even more extreme position by Gingrich will not turn his current high hopes in the Hawkeye state to dust.

As has been the pattern throughout this race, Romney emerges as the default winner after one of his opponent’s missteps. Romney’s performance was steady and solid as usual. He may not have been the only one on stage making sense as, at times, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and even occasionally Rick Perry, all made strong points. The same can also be said of Gingrich, who was doing well until he stepped in it on immigration. Unfortunately for Herman Cain, another debate on foreign policy exposed his major weakness. Ron Paul made the most of his extensive time on camera but his isolationist views just made it clear how out of step he is with the GOP and the country. Jon Huntsman again demonstrated his irrelevance. But Romney made no errors and sounded authoritative and presidential and never strayed from his key points about Obama’s misjudgments. Had Gingrich not stolen the limelight with his unforced error, Romney’s pledge that his first visit to a foreign country after his election would be to Israel might have been the sound byte of the evening.

Coming as it did after a week during which many observers seemed to be dismissing Romney or downplaying the idea that he is the inevitable winner of the nomination, this blow to Gingrich once again raises the question of how Romney can possibly lose in a field where the conservatives are so badly divided. In a race where all those competing for the title of the “not Romney” are flawed, it’s hard to see how any of them, be it Gingrich, Perry, Cain, Bachmann or even Santorum, can possibly emerge triumphant. Tonight’s debate will be a reminder to pundits who were seizing on Gingrich’s latest poll numbers as proof of his viability the way they did Cain’s and Perry’s before him, that it is a mistake to get too excited about a momentary surge in public opinion.

Conservatives still may not love Romney, but after another debate victory, the race is still his to lose.

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Live Blog: GOP Presidential Debate

Debate ends. Winner: Romney. Loser: Gingrich who, despite strong performance, gives Romney big opening to savage him on amnesty for illegals. As for the others: Bachmann does well. Perry doesn’t make a mistake but Cain flounders as usual. Ron Paul probably helped himself by getting so much time to answer though he was clearly out of step with his own party.

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China just getting mentioned as a throwaway line in final questions.

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Paul’s rationalization of the Taliban is disgusting. He forgets they were the 9/11 killers hosts and defenders.

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Romney points out that Perry’s no-fly zone makes no sense because Assad isn’t bombing his people, he’s shooting them. No drive zone for tanks? Also makes good points about convincing Alawites to abandon Assad. Again, sounds presidential and knowledgeable.

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Romney finally gets a chance to talk about American exceptionalism and the contrast between his vision of an American century and Obama’s globalist view. Read More

Debate ends. Winner: Romney. Loser: Gingrich who, despite strong performance, gives Romney big opening to savage him on amnesty for illegals. As for the others: Bachmann does well. Perry doesn’t make a mistake but Cain flounders as usual. Ron Paul probably helped himself by getting so much time to answer though he was clearly out of step with his own party.

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China just getting mentioned as a throwaway line in final questions.

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Paul’s rationalization of the Taliban is disgusting. He forgets they were the 9/11 killers hosts and defenders.

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Romney points out that Perry’s no-fly zone makes no sense because Assad isn’t bombing his people, he’s shooting them. No drive zone for tanks? Also makes good points about convincing Alawites to abandon Assad. Again, sounds presidential and knowledgeable.

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Romney finally gets a chance to talk about American exceptionalism and the contrast between his vision of an American century and Obama’s globalist view.

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Ron Paul appears to be getting more time than many of the other contenders.

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Cain won’t support no fly-zone proposed by Perry in Syria. Says we should stop the export of oil from Syria. Guess he was dozing when he got the briefing that mentioned that Syria doesn’t export much oil. Ouch. First real gaffe from him tonight.

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Finally getting a question on the Arab spring. But still nothing on China.

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Perry, who was killed on immigration over in-state tuition issue, looks pleased to see that someone else has just stepped on the immigration land mine. In response, Romney sticks to his position against amnesty for illegals. This is going to hurt Gingrich.

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Bachmann challenges Gingrich’s liberal stand on immigration. Gingrich makes sense but how does this well-considered position jive with idea that he can flank Romney from the right? Romney predictably answers by denouncing amnesty and drawing distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Gingrich may have just given Romney the opening he needs to remind conservatives that Gingrich is to his left on a lot of issues.

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Blitzer reminds Gingrich he once supported amnesty for immigrants. He answers that immigrants with graduate degrees should be encouraged to stay. Says he and Romney were both snookered by plan that was also supposed to secure the border. Wants selective service-style board to review illegals giving those with long ties and good record a pass. That isn’t what right-wingers want to hear but it makes sense.

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Ron Paul doesn’t a war on terror or a war on drugs. Libertarian catnip but irrelevant in a serious discussion of foreign policy.

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Perry wants a 21st century Monroe Doctrine on infiltration of Latin America by terrorists. Says fence along border with Mexico isn’t enough. Security cooperation requires more than that. Good point.

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Bachmann says budget debate isn’t about “Monopoly money.” True but it’s hard to argue that her stand during debt ceiling crisis in which she seemed okay with default was realistic.

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Santorum says Obama has “poisoned the well” in Congress and made bipartisanship impossible. Good point but his bragging about his achievements in the 1990’s reminds us that it’s been a long time since he won an election.

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In denouncing Obama for his lack of leadership, Perry cites his experience as “commander-in-chief” of the Texas National Guard. Lines like that show how his goofiness can come out even when he’s making good points.

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Huntsman says foreign policy should be “driven by economics.” For a guy who claims to be running on his international experience, that’s a pretty cynical stand.

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Gingrich again says we’ve got to get serious about Iran, says bombing campaign that leaves Islamist regime in place won’t work but as a last resort won’t leave Israel alone to face nuclear threat. But he then seems to say that Israel intends to use them. That’s a misstatement.

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Ronney points out that the money that will be cut on defense will be spent on Obamacare. He answers Ron Paul’s cynicism about defense by mentioning programs that will be cut. Points out the failure of Obama because he’s left Israel alone to face Iran. Higher gas costs hurt but not as much as a nuclear Iran. Then pledges his first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the U.S. cares. Good moment for him.

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Santorum answers Paul Wolfowitz question about aid to Africa and other foreign aid by pointing out the importance of expanding US influence in the world and that money spent on it is saved on military expenditures.

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Bachmann turns question about helping Israel bomb Iran around by pointing out that Iran wants to eradicate Israel and chides Obama for wasting time on pointless diplomacy with Tehran.

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Gingrich says if we were serious we could shut down Iran’s nuclear program in a year.

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AEI’s Danielle Pletka poses intelligent question about the futility of sanctions on Iran. Perry answers by speaking of the need to sanction Iran’s Central Bank. Then chimes in with his idea about a no-fly zone in Syria and Obama’s weakness.

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Herman Cain gives a clear answer about supporting Israel in an attack on Iran. Ron Paul says no and quotes retired Mossad leader and Netanyahu critic about why it would be stupid. Says Israel should take care of themselves but “suffer the consequences.” As always, his basic hostility to the Jewish state shines through his isolationism.

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At the first break, Gingrich, Romney, Bachmann and Santorum all have scored points. Perry and Cain not so strong. Paul enjoying being the dog in the manger. Huntsman tries to be in both the security and the isolationist camp and only demonstrates just how marginal he is in his own party.

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Santorum reminds us war is being fought with Islamist terrorism not Islam. Then zaps Huntsman for articulating position that validates Islamist boast that they can wait out an impatient and tired U.S.

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Gingrich takes on Fred Kagan’s comment about bin Laden’s killing hurting relations with Pakistan. He says it should have. Big applause line.

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Huntsman seems to be saying that we need to declare victory in Afghanistan. Romney claims precipitate withdrawal will undermine what we’ve already achieved.

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Romney posed a question on the financial cost of Afghan war. He rightly answers by speaking of the investment in blood and the necessity not to let it fall back in the hands of the Taliban.

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Bachmann is schooling Perry on foreign policy. His anti-Pakistan/foreign aid stance is inherently popular but she’s the one who’s sounding presidential.

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Michele Bachmann shows off her Intelligence Committee info in answer on Pakistan. Interesting that her views on aid to Pakistan are as nuanced as her stands on the budget are simplistic.

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Herman Cain struggles to spit out a coherent answer about profiling but then calls Wolf Bliter “Blitz.” Funny moment.

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Ron Paul’s views are marginal within the GOP and the nation but as the only one arguing against fighting the war on terror, he’s enjoying the spotlight.

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Rick Santorum talks about the need to profile potential terrorists. He’s right but this is the sort of thing the mainstream media will kill him on. Mention of Muslims will not be forgiven.

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Rick Perry takes a shot at the TSA unions. Nobody who flies likes them.

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Romney draws a crucial distinction between war and crime. There is a war going on against terrorists that must be treated as one.

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Huntsman tries to sound authoritative but it doesn’t disguise the fact that he basically came down on the same side as Ron Paul. This again illustrates why he is a marginal figure in the Republican Party.

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Bachmann scores with answer that says Obama has turned the CIA into the ACLU on interrogations of prisoners.

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Ron Paul’s rant against security just gives Gingrich a softball to hit out of the park. Good opening for him.

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Opening question on Patriot Act from Ed Meese gives Gingrich opportunity to sound presidential as well as to sound a scary note about terrorism.

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Michele Bachmann scores points with opening that pays tribute to vets and current servicemen and women.

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Herman Cain tries a little too hard to sound as if he cares and knows about foreign policy.

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Isn’t Mitt Romney’s real first name Willard?

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Rick Perry commemorates his first date with his wife in his introduction. Sweet. But, as always, with him. Goofy.

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Wolf Blitzer promises to give all the candidates equal time. Good luck with that.

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The singing of the national anthem at the debates makes you wonder what’s the model for this kind of show: reality TV or sports?

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CNN starts off with footage from America’s conflicts over the last 65 years. Interesting film montage of American presidents and events. It’s a reminder that from FDR to Obama, the nation’s experiences with leaders have run the gamut from inspiring (FDR, Reagan) to appalling (Jimmy Carter) and all those somewhere in between.

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What to Expect from the Top Candidates Tonight

As we’ve seen from the string of flavor-of-the-week GOP candidates, the race is still unpredictable, and a single debate can make a big difference. In spite of that, here are some predictions and things to look for from the top candidates tonight:

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As we’ve seen from the string of flavor-of-the-week GOP candidates, the race is still unpredictable, and a single debate can make a big difference. In spite of that, here are some predictions and things to look for from the top candidates tonight:

Newt Gingrich: The biggest question mark is whether the other candidates will actually lay a glove on him. So far, none have shown a willingness to attack Gingrich during the debates, but that was back when he was a surly-but-lovable sideshow that had no chance of actually winning the nomination. Now he’s a frontrunner. There are plenty of foreign policy issues to hit Newt on, including his flop-flops on the intervention in Libya. Expect him to take a lot of punches from Rick Santorum, who hopes to be next in line if/when the Gingrich boomlet ends. Gingrich will also likely highlight the fact that he’s been critical of the supercommittee since Day One.

Rick Perry: This is the first (fully-televised) debate since the “oops” moment, so there will be a lot of eyes on him. According to a senior adviser to his campaign, there’s not much concern there will be a repeat. “He’s terrific in the prep sessions, and very engaged in the material. So we’re not nervous.” He’s not going to back down on his proposal to start all foreign aid at zero, and he’ll likely highlight his China policy (based on American interests, not appeasement). He will also attack the Department of Defense cuts from the failed supercommittee negotiations, which will probably be the standard position for all of the candidates (minus Ron Paul) tonight.

Herman Cain: Cain’s mangled newspaper interview on Libya was so detrimental to his campaign that he’ll almost certainly be asked to address this at some point. And there’s a good chance he’ll have a smart answer prepared. But that won’t solve the larger problem, which is that Republicans think he’s a complete lightweight on foreign policy. It will be hard, if not impossible for him to shake off that perception, and any embarrassing errors that he makes tonight will be jumped on.

Mitt Romney: Romney has repeatedly come out on top in the debates, and he’s shown a strong grasp of foreign policy issues. So there is nothing he really has to prove tonight. Just like the previous debates, he can relax and let the other candidates fight it out.

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UN Global AIDS Report Has Good News

Here’s a report filled with good news. According to the United Nations’ annual report on the global AIDS epidemic, released yesterday, more people than ever are living with HIV, largely due to greater access to treatment. At the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide, up 17 percent from 2001. This reflects the continued large number of new HIV infections and a significant expansion of access to antiretroviral therapy, which has helped reduce AIDS-related deaths, especially in more recent years.

At the same time, the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes fell to 1.8 million in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s. A total of 2.5 million deaths have been averted in low- and middle-income countries since 1995 due to antiretroviral therapy being introduced, according to new calculations by UNAIDS. Much of that success has come in the past two years when rapid scale-up of access to treatment occurred; in 2010 alone, 700 000 AIDS-related deaths were averted.

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Here’s a report filled with good news. According to the United Nations’ annual report on the global AIDS epidemic, released yesterday, more people than ever are living with HIV, largely due to greater access to treatment. At the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide, up 17 percent from 2001. This reflects the continued large number of new HIV infections and a significant expansion of access to antiretroviral therapy, which has helped reduce AIDS-related deaths, especially in more recent years.

At the same time, the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes fell to 1.8 million in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s. A total of 2.5 million deaths have been averted in low- and middle-income countries since 1995 due to antiretroviral therapy being introduced, according to new calculations by UNAIDS. Much of that success has come in the past two years when rapid scale-up of access to treatment occurred; in 2010 alone, 700 000 AIDS-related deaths were averted.

In addition, there were 2.7 million new HIV infections in 2010. This was 15 percent less than in 2001 and 21 percent below the number of new infections at the peak of the epidemic in 1997. HIV incidence has fallen in 33 countries, 22 of them in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by the AIDS epidemic. (Almost half of the deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in 2010 occurred in southern Africa. AIDS has claimed at least one million lives annually in sub-Saharan Africa since 1998. Since then, however, AIDS-related deaths have steadily decreased, as free antiretroviral therapy has become more widely available in the region.)

The key to progress includes a massive rollout of anti-retroviral drugs, increasing acceptance and male circumcision, and changes in sexual behavior (including the use of condoms, reduction in the number of sexual partners and a delay of the start in sexuality activity). The Washington Post, in reporting on the story, said this:

Perhaps the most dramatic achievement of 2010, the report says, was a 20 percent increase in the use of “antiretroviral therapy” in Africa over the prior year. A decade ago, the life-extending drugs were available in Africa only to members of the elite and a few ordinary people enrolled in clinical  studies.

Today in low- and middle-income countries around the  world, 47 percent of people who meet the clinical criteria for antiretroviral  therapy are getting it — 6.6 million out of 14.2 million eligible. Much of that treatment is underwritten by the U.S. government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, started by George W. Bush, and by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a charity principally funded by the United States and European countries.

In all of this I’m reminded of a passage from Albert Camus’ The Plague, a novel about a coastal town in North Africa, Oran, in which a plague sets off a chain of horror, survival, and human resilience:

Many fledgling moralist in those days were going about our town proclaiming there was nothing to be done about it and we should bow to the inevitable. And Tarrou, Rieux, and their friends might give one answer or another, but its conclusion was always the same, their certitude that a fight must be put up, in this way or that, and there must be no bowing down. The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague.

In this world there are lots of hands and hearts that deserve credit for no bowing down, for deciding to fight the plague. Very near the top of the list belongs the name George W. Bush.

 

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Romney’s Non-Scandalous Past a Liability?

Mitt Romney comes off as the kind of person whose idea of a crazy time is wearing linen after Labor Day. So his People magazine interview about his crazy teenage years is pretty much what you would expect:

PEOPLE: Have you ever had a beer?

Romney: “Never had drinks or tobacco. It’s a religious thing. I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once, as a wayward teenager, and never did it again.”

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Mitt Romney comes off as the kind of person whose idea of a crazy time is wearing linen after Labor Day. So his People magazine interview about his crazy teenage years is pretty much what you would expect:

PEOPLE: Have you ever had a beer?

Romney: “Never had drinks or tobacco. It’s a religious thing. I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once, as a wayward teenager, and never did it again.”

So Romney is an earnest, moral person who honors his religion. These are good things. But oddly enough, they could actually end up working against him in a general election.

Having wild teenage years was once a problem for politicians, but now it’s pretty much accepted – and almost expected – for our political leaders to have rebelled a bit. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton tried to argue that he never inhaled. In 2000, Gore didn’t even bother giving an excuse. George W. Bush was open about his alcoholism, and John McCain about his womanizing. In the last election, Obama’s admitted cocaine use in college was met with a collective shrug on the campaign trail.

In a way, these stories of long-ago transgressions helped humanize them. It made them seem like more than just one-dimensional characters: they had problems, weaknesses, personal flaws that they once struggled to overcome. They weren’t perfect.

On the other hand, “perfection” may actually be somewhat of a liability for Romney. Since his first presidential run, he’s tried hard to shake off the perception that he’s too “cardboard” and too aloof.

Obama doesn’t exactly come off as a “man of the people,” either, but he does have one advantage on Romney. The classic poll question during presidential elections is “which candidate would you rather have a beer with.” That could leave Romney at an unfair, but undeniable, disadvantage. (It’s true that George W. Bush couldn’t drink either, but nobody would ever argue that he was less rugged than John Kerry or Al Gore.)

There’s a good chance Obama will try to highlight this contrast during the election, possibly as a subtle swipe at both Romney’s religion and his aloofness. And if you doubt that beer drinking will be an issue the media will follow endlessly, see here, and here.

Romney needs to figure out a way to connect with the public on a personal level, beyond the photo ops at dive bars. To start, it would be interesting to know more about what drives him. The answers don’t have to be perfect; in fact, it’s better if they’re not.

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Preventing a Budget Compromise Was Liberal Priority, Not a Jewish Issue

The congressional supercommittee’s failure to bridge the vast divide between the two parties on taxes and spending is being attributed by many in the mainstream media to one side alone. As the New York Times put it in a typically partisan editorial published this morning, “the only reason the committee failed was because Republicans refused to raise taxes on the rich.” The distorted and bias interpretation of a principled refusal on the part of some in the GOP to enact job-killing tax increases in the middle of an economic downturn is bad enough. But it also ignores the fact that a key element of the Democratic base was just as opposed to compromise as the Tea Party.

While the Grey Lady was gnashing its teeth over the standoff, some liberal groups were rejoicing. One such organization, the National Council of Jewish Women, released a statement saying, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” According to the NCJW, a stalemate is better than a deal that would have begun the necessary task of entitlement reform without which the nation is doomed to insolvency.

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The congressional supercommittee’s failure to bridge the vast divide between the two parties on taxes and spending is being attributed by many in the mainstream media to one side alone. As the New York Times put it in a typically partisan editorial published this morning, “the only reason the committee failed was because Republicans refused to raise taxes on the rich.” The distorted and bias interpretation of a principled refusal on the part of some in the GOP to enact job-killing tax increases in the middle of an economic downturn is bad enough. But it also ignores the fact that a key element of the Democratic base was just as opposed to compromise as the Tea Party.

While the Grey Lady was gnashing its teeth over the standoff, some liberal groups were rejoicing. One such organization, the National Council of Jewish Women, released a statement saying, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” According to the NCJW, a stalemate is better than a deal that would have begun the necessary task of entitlement reform without which the nation is doomed to insolvency.

One of the curious aspects of the liberal lobbying against a budget compromise is the way liberal Jewish groups have been among the most outspoken defenders of the existing broken system. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, a “faithful budget” coalition sought to pressure members of Congress to avoid cuts in entitlements. According to JTA, Rabbi Jack Moline, director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly (the association of rabbis affiliated with Judaism’s Conservative religious movement), led a public prayer meeting at Lafayette Park this past weekend. Moline stumped for the president in 2008 as the head of a “Jews for Obama” group.

It speaks volumes about the politicization of Jewish organizational life that supposedly bipartisan groups like the NCJW and the RA would allow themselves to be dragged into the budget fight. While they may argue that Judaism enjoins its adherents to take care of the poor, the notion that it endorses specific levels of taxation or government spending is a blatant misrepresentation of Jewish beliefs.

These statements prove the obstacle to budget compromise was as much left-wing ideology as it was of the principles of the right. They also illustrate how in some precincts of the organized Jewish world, the interests of political liberalism have long since become fused with that of Judaism. Suffice to say that while the majority of Jews may still be liberal, any effort to identify such partisan cant with that of the Jewish faith is unjustified.

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Obama as Political Commentator

In the wake of the collapse of the so-called supercommittee, President Obama said, “There are still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voice of reason and compromise.”

Of course they did. Anyone who holds views different than the president is unenlightened, unreasonable, and unpatriotic. By now it’s a broken record.

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In the wake of the collapse of the so-called supercommittee, President Obama said, “There are still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voice of reason and compromise.”

Of course they did. Anyone who holds views different than the president is unenlightened, unreasonable, and unpatriotic. By now it’s a broken record.

What is worth pointing out is that Obama deserves a lion’s share of the blame for the failure of the supercommittee. “The White House deserves primary responsibility,” according to former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. “History shows us that to achieve anything this big, you need the president to get involved. And Obama was MIA.”

Indeed he was.

It is getting rather odd these days, isn’t it, with Obama now commenting on governing matters that he has purposely detached himself from. What this means is that he’s now acting more like an MSNBC political analyst than like a president. Which, come to think of it, is not a half-bad idea. Obama actually might have some talent as a political commentator. And we already know he has none as a president.

I believe Barack Obama would be much better off appearing on a nightly basis with Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews. So would we.

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ABA: More Obama Judicial Nominees “Unqualified” Than Those of Bush

Liberals often derided the Bush administration for what they claimed was the poor quality of its judicial nominees who were widely declared by the media to be chosen largely for their politics rather than any other consideration. But it turns out that far more of Barack Obama’s choices for the federal bench have been rejected as “unqualified” by the liberal vetting group that was considered a thorn in the side of George W. Bush.

The New York Times reports today that the American Bar Association, which has been roundly criticized for conservatives for decades for its liberal bias, has trashed more of Obama’s nominees in just three years than in did in the entire eight years of the Bush administration. The number of Obama’s choices rejected also exceeds the total that were deemed unworthy during the Clinton presidency. Considering that this stern verdict comes from an organization clearly sympathetic to Obama’s politics and judicial philosophy, these figures speak volumes about the poor quality of those tapped for the bench by the Democrats in the last three years and the abysmal standards by which they were held by the president.

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Liberals often derided the Bush administration for what they claimed was the poor quality of its judicial nominees who were widely declared by the media to be chosen largely for their politics rather than any other consideration. But it turns out that far more of Barack Obama’s choices for the federal bench have been rejected as “unqualified” by the liberal vetting group that was considered a thorn in the side of George W. Bush.

The New York Times reports today that the American Bar Association, which has been roundly criticized for conservatives for decades for its liberal bias, has trashed more of Obama’s nominees in just three years than in did in the entire eight years of the Bush administration. The number of Obama’s choices rejected also exceeds the total that were deemed unworthy during the Clinton presidency. Considering that this stern verdict comes from an organization clearly sympathetic to Obama’s politics and judicial philosophy, these figures speak volumes about the poor quality of those tapped for the bench by the Democrats in the last three years and the abysmal standards by which they were held by the president.

Though the article provided no specifics about the particular candidates since those labeled “unqualified” were not presented to the Senate for confirmation, the one detail about those who landed in the proverbial trashcan does give us a clue as to what’s going on here. The key to understanding the nominations appears to be the administration’s commitment to “diversity,” which means they have emphasized the choice of women, Hispanics and African-Americans. While the majority of those nominated were not rejected by the ABA, of the 14 who were given the “unqualified” tag, nine were female, two were Hispanic and two were African-American.

To be fair, Republicans never thought much of the ABA as a vetting organization and often mooted proposals for eliminating it because of its liberal tilt when it came to evaluating prospective judges. But it says something about the politicized nature of the current administration’s approach to the judiciary that the ABA is rejecting its choices at a rate that far outpaces anything seen in the last two decades during presidencies of both political parties.

Like many other of the liberal slanders that were routinely hurled at Bush, the idea that he sought to politicize the judiciary has now been effectively debunked. The fact that 7.5 percent of all of Obama’s nominees are being rejected by a liberal group that refused to back only 2 percent of Bush’s choices shows that, if anything, it is Obama who values liberal ideology, gender and racial background more than excellence.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again on foreign policy and national security issues.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again on foreign policy and national security issues.

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Foreign Policy May Do More to Define GOP Race Than Some Thought

Tonight’s latest installment of America’s most popular political reality show will give us another chance to evaluate the Republican presidential candidates’ foreign policy credentials. But while even posing that question is enough to shrink Herman Cain’s dwindling poll numbers, the forum provided by the American Enterprise Institute (and broadcast by CNN at 8 p.m.) will enable us to see whether some of them have made progress towards enunciating a coherent vision of national defense and America’s place in the world.

Rather than a sidebar to the election, this topic may do more to define the race than many would have thought. While gaffes on domestic policy might be laughed off, as Cain has seen, a failure to show even a basic understanding of life and death issues that will face a commander-in-chief has the potential to sink any would-be president.

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Tonight’s latest installment of America’s most popular political reality show will give us another chance to evaluate the Republican presidential candidates’ foreign policy credentials. But while even posing that question is enough to shrink Herman Cain’s dwindling poll numbers, the forum provided by the American Enterprise Institute (and broadcast by CNN at 8 p.m.) will enable us to see whether some of them have made progress towards enunciating a coherent vision of national defense and America’s place in the world.

Rather than a sidebar to the election, this topic may do more to define the race than many would have thought. While gaffes on domestic policy might be laughed off, as Cain has seen, a failure to show even a basic understanding of life and death issues that will face a commander-in-chief has the potential to sink any would-be president.

As has been the case throughout the campaign, the divide among the GOP hopefuls is as much along the lines of competence as it is of ideology. Cain’s lack of command of this topic may have done more to undermine his candidacy than the sexual harassment charges that have dogged him. But leaving aside his shortcomings, the AEI debate will give the Republican field an immediate opportunity to respond to the Obama administration’s approach to both the mandatory defense cuts that have been put in place by the congressional supercommittee flameout as well as what may be the key foreign policy challenge for the next president: Iran.

While the candidates have battered each other on their records on health care and social issues and the virtues of their various tax plans, it may well be that quizzing their foreign policy bona fides provides a better test of their fitness for the presidency. Though each of these events have tended to be viewed as more a matter of how well or poorly the candidates are holding up under the pressure of national exposure, this second debate in ten days on foreign policy may help illustrate which of them actually has a handle on war and peace issues.

This should play to the strengths of the two men who are currently leading in the polls: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Gingrich’s lengthy experience in public affairs burdens him with an inconsistent record on some topics such as foreign interventions (he backed Bill Clinton on Bosnia but came down on both sides of Barack Obama’s Libyan venture), but it also allows him to demonstrate that he understands not only the challenges but also the underlying factors that have created these crises.

Romney has been known principally for his command of economics, but during this campaign, he’s gone out of his way to articulate a vision of a strong America that ought to appeal strongly to conservatives who have otherwise been cool to him. He’s also been outspoken about Iran and willing to talk tough about China as a potential adversary.

In the last foreign policy debate, Rick Perry made something of a splash by saying he would zero out foreign aid at the start of each year and make potential recipients justify every dollar annually. Bashing foreign aid tends to be a crowd pleaser for GOP audiences, but by including Israel in that category, he raised eyebrows among the Jewish state’s ardent evangelical supporters. In doing so, he again showed a predilection for, as he would put, “stepping in it.” And by grandstanding on aid to Pakistan, all he accomplished was to show that second tier candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum actually understood the situation better than he did.

Though all but libertarian extremist Ron Paul will be counted on to address the Iranian nuclear threat with strong language and promises of action, it will be interesting to see if the candidates pick up on the opening the Obama administration left its opponents with its decision to enact a symbolic sanction of the Islamist regime’s Central Bank rather than the crippling measure that might bring results.

Another key test will come during a potential discussion of the mandatory defense cuts that may be enacted as a result of the supercommittee failure on the budget. Though all claim to be fiscal hawks, the country will be watching to see if the GOP field understands the importance of the issue and its impact on national security.

While it is wise to expect the unexpected when these candidates meet, the latest edition of this debate series may go a long a way toward further defining the serious contenders from the also-rans.

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Crippling Sanctions on Iran Are Best Way to Prevent Israeli Strike

You have to give French President Nicolas Sarkozy credit: So far, he’s the only international leader to demand the world put its money where its mouth is on Iran. For weeks, world leaders have been lining up to say how disastrous an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be; indeed, as Jonathan noted last week, the Obama administration frequently seems more interested in preventing Israeli military action than in preventing Iran from getting the bomb. Yet Sarkozy is the first to take that opposition to its logical conclusion: If the world actually wants to prevent an Israeli strike, it needs to demonstrate that Iran’s nuclear program can be stopped without military action. And that means imposing truly crippling sanctions on Tehran.

The new sanctions announced by the U.S., Britain and Canada yesterday are all welcome; all will genuinely increase the pressure on Iran. But they fall well short of what Sarkozy proposed: for “the United States, Japan and Canada and other willing countries to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Iranian Central Bank [and] stop purchases of Iranian oil.”

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You have to give French President Nicolas Sarkozy credit: So far, he’s the only international leader to demand the world put its money where its mouth is on Iran. For weeks, world leaders have been lining up to say how disastrous an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be; indeed, as Jonathan noted last week, the Obama administration frequently seems more interested in preventing Israeli military action than in preventing Iran from getting the bomb. Yet Sarkozy is the first to take that opposition to its logical conclusion: If the world actually wants to prevent an Israeli strike, it needs to demonstrate that Iran’s nuclear program can be stopped without military action. And that means imposing truly crippling sanctions on Tehran.

The new sanctions announced by the U.S., Britain and Canada yesterday are all welcome; all will genuinely increase the pressure on Iran. But they fall well short of what Sarkozy proposed: for “the United States, Japan and Canada and other willing countries to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Iranian Central Bank [and] stop purchases of Iranian oil.”

The U.S., for instance, declared Iran as “a jurisdiction of ‘primary money laundering concern’ under section 311 of the USA Patriot Act,” which will make it harder for Western financial institutions to do business with Iran. But it did not move directly against Iran’s Central Bank, which is what would really be necessary to shut down Iran’s financial lifeline. Britain ordered its financial institutions to stop doing business with Iran, but has reportedly decided against targeting Iran’s oil trade.

It could be that most Western countries genuinely consider a nuclear Iran preferable to the financial pain crippling sanctions would impose on them: Targeting Iran’s oil trade, for instance, would almost certainly raise the price of oil. But the consequences of an Israeli military strike could easily prove just as bad, and might well be worse, given that Iran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate not just against Israel, but also against the U.S. and other Western countries. And because most Israelis believe a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, Israel isn’t likely to deem a nuclear Iran preferable to the financial and military consequences of a strike.

Thus, if world leaders really believe what they say about the negative consequences of Israeli military action, crippling sanctions, however financially painful, are the lesser of two evils. Sarkozy appears to have grasped that. The question now is whether anyone else will follow suit.

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Is Entrapment Concern Baseless?

This certainly isn’t the first terror case handled by the NYPD that’s sparked concern over entrapment. Back during the Herald Square bomb case, the claims were never substantiated, and a jury found the perp guilty.

From the sound of it, the NYPD has more than enough for a strong case against Jose Pimental. But the New York Times is still raising the question:

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This certainly isn’t the first terror case handled by the NYPD that’s sparked concern over entrapment. Back during the Herald Square bomb case, the claims were never substantiated, and a jury found the perp guilty.

From the sound of it, the NYPD has more than enough for a strong case against Jose Pimental. But the New York Times is still raising the question:

But it was the informer’s role, and that of his police handlers, that have now been cited as among the reasons the FBI, which had its own parallel investigation of Mr. Pimentel, did not pursue the case, which was announced on Sunday night in a news conference at City Hall. Terrorism cases are generally handled by federal authorities.

There was concern that the informer might have played too active a role in helping Mr. Pimentel, said several people who were briefed on the case, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity, either because of the tense relations between the Intelligence Division and the FBI or because the case was continuing.

The left is constantly seeing entrapment in cases like these, so any claims have to be taken with a serious grain of salt. But the fact that the FBI is keeping its distance from this case is a big red flag, especially since it sounds like the evidence against Pimentel would typically make this a slam-dunk. Even if there was an overeager informer involved, the NYPD had little choice but to go forward with the arrest once it found evidence that Pimentel was almost finished building the bombs, both for legal reasons and for public safety.

There could have been other timing incentives, too. After the recent explosive Associated Press series on the NYPD’s controversial surveillance of Muslim communities, there was likely pressure on the department to cough up some evidence for why this program was necessary. Pimentel, a self-radicalized Muslim convert, was reportedly under police surveillance for two years before his arrest. His case is another reminder the terror threat hasn’t disappeared.

Liberals are quick to shout entrapment in terror cases. There’s a good chance it will once again turn out to be baseless. But if evidence shows the informer in the case was aggressive to the point of entrapment, it could end up doing severe damage to future terror investigations and the credibility of the NYPD.

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The Left’s JFK Conspiracy Theories Matter

It’s understandable if many chose to pass on Frank Rich’s rambling attempt to rekindle the flame of speculation around who was really responsible for killing John F. Kennedy.

But the article, which relies mostly on pure tendentious fantasy (even using Stephen King’s science fiction reimagining of the crime as a source), is still worthwhile as a revealing expression of the pathologies of the left. And while Rich proclaims the assassination to be relevant to current events, he’s not entirely wrong. Only the parallels are not what he thinks.

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It’s understandable if many chose to pass on Frank Rich’s rambling attempt to rekindle the flame of speculation around who was really responsible for killing John F. Kennedy.

But the article, which relies mostly on pure tendentious fantasy (even using Stephen King’s science fiction reimagining of the crime as a source), is still worthwhile as a revealing expression of the pathologies of the left. And while Rich proclaims the assassination to be relevant to current events, he’s not entirely wrong. Only the parallels are not what he thinks.

There are two elements of modern liberalism Rich expresses in his conspiratorial rant, and they are both visible in the following paragraph:

While [William] Manchester adds that “obviously, it is impossible to define the exact relationship between an individual and his environment,” he strongly rejected the universal description of Oswald as “a loner.” No man, he writes, is quarantined from his time and place. Dallas was toxic. The atmosphere was “something unrelated to conventional politics—a stridency, a disease of the spirit, a shrill, hysterical note suggestive of a deeply troubled society.” Duly observing that even the greatest presidents have been vilified in their time—Lincoln as a baboon and Jefferson as “Mad Tom”—Manchester saw something “more than partisan zeal” at work in this case. He detected “a chiaroscuro that existed outside the two parties, a virulence which had infected members of both.”

Talk of the “atmosphere” of hate will be familiar to anyone who read the left’s reaction to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. But whereas Jared Loughner was a nonideological madman, Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist bent on assassinating an anticommunist American president. At Hot Air, Allahpundit wondered why on earth Democrats wouldn’t just blame Oswald’s communism:

Oswald wasn’t a mainstream liberal or, Lord knows, a mainstream Democrat. He was a fringe leftist, an honest-to-goodness commie. The Oswald apologists could, if they liked, simply emphasize his ideological extremism — his fringiness — as the key to his anti-Kennedy mania.

But they didn’t–just as they defend the Occupy Wall Street protesters, whose movement has been marked by violence, rape, and in one case sympathy for–you guessed it–a would-be assassin who shot at the White House. This is one reason anticommunists had mostly left or avoided the Democratic party. Ralph de Toledano, Whittaker Chambers, and others like them argued there was a design flaw in the American left which would forever hamper their ability and willingness to cast out the crazies, even when they didn’t sympathize with them.

They argued, as the historian of the right George Nash once aptly put it, “that there was a philosophical continuity on the left and that this was disabling to American liberalism, because it could not quite bring itself to have a vigorous enough response to the communists.”

Frank Rich is not a communist, so why can’t he just admit the reality of what happened? Kennedy’s opposition to communism was a noble virtue, so why not say as much? Because though communist radicalism is far from the mainstream of the Democratic party, strident anticommunism is just as far.

The second reason is the last sentence in the paragraph I quoted from Rich’s article–Manchester’s observation of “a chiaroscuro that existed outside the two parties, a virulence which had infected members of both.” The left harbors hallucinogenic hate for the right, but it only underscores something even more rancid: a general suspicion of the American public and American culture. Manchester says it all: something was terribly wrong with people, and it had nothing to do with party affiliation or ideology–it was “suggestive of a deeply troubled society.” The public was sick, and no one–Democrat or Republican–could be trusted. Everyone was a threat, and someone finally emerged to pull the trigger.

But to blame that one man is to get it all wrong, according to writers Rich and Manchester and their ilk. Oswald, so the left’s theory goes, was himself a weapon, a gun, and America pulled the trigger.

Last year, Jonah Goldberg wrote a brief article for National Review (it’s not online) in which he asked why liberals are so protective of other cultures–even ones that execute gay men and women–yet get up in arms whenever someone suggests the existence of an inherent American culture. Perhaps, he offered, it’s because if liberals can convince people there is no American culture, when they replace it with their own version it won’t look as though they are destroying anything, but rather filling a void.

But maybe there’s another explanation. Frank Rich and his colleagues believe there is an inherent American culture–and it killed JFK. It tried to kill Gabrielle Giffords. It created the Tea Party. And it doesn’t much approve of Barack Obama’s presidency. Frank Rich sees a culture that clings to guns and God. It’s bitter, and, of course, so is he.

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New Symbolic Iran Sanctions Mean Nothing

In the wake of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report on Iran’s nuclear program, some action by the United States to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran was expected. But yesterday’s announcement that the Treasury Department has named the Central Bank of Iran and the entire Iranian banking system as a “primary money laundering concern” was a purely symbolic gesture that will do nothing to cripple the ability of the Islamist regime to continue on its destructive path. Though accompanied by sanctions on Iran’s oil and nuclear industry and other measures that may reduce its access to foreign capital and credit, the package falls far short of the sort of crippling measures that might actually shake the ayatollahs’ faith in their ability to survive.

For all of the tough talk emanating out of Washington about Iran and its dangerous drive for a military application of nuclear power these days, the Obama administration still appears reluctant to go straight to the heart of the problem and to prohibit transactions on Iran’s Central Bank or a full-scale ban of oil imports and transactions with its oil industry. Rather than this announcement being a sign the U.S. is finally undertaking a serious course of action on the issue, this symbolic swipe at Iran is more likely to reaffirm Tehran’s belief they have nothing to fear from the United States.

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In the wake of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report on Iran’s nuclear program, some action by the United States to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran was expected. But yesterday’s announcement that the Treasury Department has named the Central Bank of Iran and the entire Iranian banking system as a “primary money laundering concern” was a purely symbolic gesture that will do nothing to cripple the ability of the Islamist regime to continue on its destructive path. Though accompanied by sanctions on Iran’s oil and nuclear industry and other measures that may reduce its access to foreign capital and credit, the package falls far short of the sort of crippling measures that might actually shake the ayatollahs’ faith in their ability to survive.

For all of the tough talk emanating out of Washington about Iran and its dangerous drive for a military application of nuclear power these days, the Obama administration still appears reluctant to go straight to the heart of the problem and to prohibit transactions on Iran’s Central Bank or a full-scale ban of oil imports and transactions with its oil industry. Rather than this announcement being a sign the U.S. is finally undertaking a serious course of action on the issue, this symbolic swipe at Iran is more likely to reaffirm Tehran’s belief they have nothing to fear from the United States.

Though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once spoke of the need for the United States to enact “crippling” sanctions on Iran to bring them to their senses on the nuclear question, no one in their right mind could possibly point to the package of measures announced yesterday as a fulfillment of that threat. When combined with Russia’s announcement that it will not agree to any further sanctions on Iran —which will make it impossible to get United Nations approval for any heightened restrictions on dealing with the country — it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion the American position on the issue is mere talk.

There are two basic problems with the administration’s approach to sanctioning Iran: the unwillingness of U.S. allies to stop dealing with Iran and the reluctance of the United States to enforce existing sanctions.

Even if we believe in the sincerity of its stated opposition to an Iranian bomb and its determination to prevent the regime from obtaining one, Washington’s desire to halt economic intercourse with the country is hamstrung by the reluctance of its allies to go along with the program. If the U.S. were serious about crippling Iran’s economy, the obvious thing to do would be to ban all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank. But since doing so would make it difficult if not impossible for Japan, China and other nations to purchase Iranian oil, Washington has refrained from doing so. Instead, we get a symbolic statement about the bank that does little if anything to harm it or the regime. Unless the West or even just the United States is prepared to actually inflict the sort of pain on Iran that would put the Islamist government there in jeopardy, why would anyone — especially the ayatollahs — believe the U.S. means business?

This same impulse relates to the second problem with America’s sanctions on Iran. Though there are a number of measures already in place to make it difficult to do business with Iran, the fact remains that the United States still isn’t enforcing these rules. As the New York Times reported a year ago, the same Treasury Department that made yesterday’s announcement about getting tough with Iran has granted more than 10,000 exemptions from those sanctions.

So long as America is merely talking tough but refraining from enacting serious sanctions or even enforcing the mild ones already in place, why should Iran believe it is in any trouble? With Russia backing it up at the UN and an Obama administration that is too timid to do anything but enact symbolic measures, the Iranians can proceed toward their nuclear goal without fear the West can stop them.

The only real question here is why supporters of the Obama administration who worry about Iran and the existential threat it poses to Israel are quietly accepting this sorry situation. Just as the U.S. is letting Iran off the hook, so, too, are pro-Israel Democrats allowing Obama to get away with talking about Iran but actually doing nothing.

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Gingrich Back Down in New Hampshire

In two new polls out today, Newt Gingrich has not been able to replicate his surprise tie with Romney in last week’s New Hampshire Magellan Strategies poll. The new American Research Group Inc. poll shows the former Speaker trailing Romney, 22 percent to 33 percent. And the Suffolk poll has an even larger divide – Romney leads Gingrich, 41 percent to 14 percent.

But it’s unclear if the Magellan poll was just a fluke, or if Gingrich is starting to fade. It seems likelier that it’s the former. The dates of all three polls overlapped slightly, and Gingrich didn’t make any recent missteps in New Hampshire that could have hurt his numbers. He also isn’t dropping off in national polls, and today’s Quinnipiac survey has him actually leading Romney, 26 to 22.

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In two new polls out today, Newt Gingrich has not been able to replicate his surprise tie with Romney in last week’s New Hampshire Magellan Strategies poll. The new American Research Group Inc. poll shows the former Speaker trailing Romney, 22 percent to 33 percent. And the Suffolk poll has an even larger divide – Romney leads Gingrich, 41 percent to 14 percent.

But it’s unclear if the Magellan poll was just a fluke, or if Gingrich is starting to fade. It seems likelier that it’s the former. The dates of all three polls overlapped slightly, and Gingrich didn’t make any recent missteps in New Hampshire that could have hurt his numbers. He also isn’t dropping off in national polls, and today’s Quinnipiac survey has him actually leading Romney, 26 to 22.

Based on the major differences between just the American Research Group and Suffolk polls – which were both taken from a sample of likely Republican primary voters during the same time period – it seems premature to rely on any New Hampshire poll at this point.

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Gingrich Comments on CBO Unfair

Well, that didn’t take long.

On Sunday, I wrote that Newt Gingrich possesses an active and creative, if impulsive and sometimes unrestrained, mind; that Gingrich understands, at least intellectually, his past weaknesses, including his lack of discipline and propensity to use strident, even apocalyptic, language; and that I had my doubts whether a man at Gingrich’s age can re-make himself. “But Gingrich now has his chance to prove me, and others like me, wrong. Stay tuned.”

A day later Gingrich, in a speech in New Hampshire, referred to the Congressional Budget Office as a “reactionary, socialist institution” which “does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”

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Well, that didn’t take long.

On Sunday, I wrote that Newt Gingrich possesses an active and creative, if impulsive and sometimes unrestrained, mind; that Gingrich understands, at least intellectually, his past weaknesses, including his lack of discipline and propensity to use strident, even apocalyptic, language; and that I had my doubts whether a man at Gingrich’s age can re-make himself. “But Gingrich now has his chance to prove me, and others like me, wrong. Stay tuned.”

A day later Gingrich, in a speech in New Hampshire, referred to the Congressional Budget Office as a “reactionary, socialist institution” which “does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”

Formed in 1974, the CBO’s mandate is to provide Congress with objective, nonpartisan, and timely analysis on economic and budgetary matters. While its work is highly speculative and it sometimes operates on premises different than conservatives do (it doesn’t score market effects, choosing what is known as a “static” analysis), CBO is widely respected, its staff professional, and its budget analysts strive to get things right and follow their mission statement. The staff at CBO also makes a point of being very transparent in their analyses and base them, in large part, on surveying the spectrum of academic work and data.  It has a long history of annoying the proponents of legislation that it analyzes, whether it be Democrats or Republicans, regardless of who is appointed the director. As far as agencies in Washington go, it’s among the more impressive ones. We’re better with it than without it.

All of which make Gingrich’s comments unfair (as well as somewhat odd). They’re evidence of a quality that’s familiar to anyone who has watched Gingrich over the years –the intentionally provocative language, the imprecision and recklessness of the charge, and the need to frame matters on which reasonable people might disagree as children of light v. children of darkness.

I rather doubt Gingrich’s attacks on CBO will hurt him one bit; there isn’t a huge CBO constituency in the country these days. And this effort is part of a broader strategy to make Gingrich, a well-known Washington insider, into an outsider. But what was said is a small reminder of the drawbacks of Gingrich.

Gingrich strikes me as a person who is at his best when the chips are down — and most dangerous to himself when he’s on top of the world. Right now Gingrich is on the up escalator.

Like I said, stay tuned.

 

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The Supercommittee’s Achievement

As usual, the conventional wisdom has it wrong. The supercommittee didn’t fail; it succeeded in what it was intended to do, which was provide cover for an increase in the debt ceiling through the end of Obama’s term. I explore this theme in today’s New York Post:

It was there just to get us to Thanksgiving. Thursday is Thanksgiving. The supercommittee’s work is done.

The lament that the supercommittee was unable to make a deal is ridiculous — because the supercommittee itself was the deal.

Going forward, the 12 members will find themselves under somewhat unpleasant assault for not having saved America from itself. At the same time, some of them will be showered with praise and increased campaign contributions for having refused to sell out their own camp’s principles.

The question now is who will benefit politically from the supercommittee’s success-that-looks-like-a-failure. The first poll on the matter, by Quinnipiac, says the public blames Republicans more than Democrats by a margin of 46-38, which isn’t that dramatic a spread. It appears the White House thinks it can make hay out of this, but that is a tricky proposition. President Obama may want to run against a do-nothing Congress the way Harry Truman did. But the more Obama concentrates his rhetorical attention on how the system is broken, the weaker he may come to seem to voters, who ordinarily don’t accept the contention of presidents that their power and authority are insufficient to get the job done.

As usual, the conventional wisdom has it wrong. The supercommittee didn’t fail; it succeeded in what it was intended to do, which was provide cover for an increase in the debt ceiling through the end of Obama’s term. I explore this theme in today’s New York Post:

It was there just to get us to Thanksgiving. Thursday is Thanksgiving. The supercommittee’s work is done.

The lament that the supercommittee was unable to make a deal is ridiculous — because the supercommittee itself was the deal.

Going forward, the 12 members will find themselves under somewhat unpleasant assault for not having saved America from itself. At the same time, some of them will be showered with praise and increased campaign contributions for having refused to sell out their own camp’s principles.

The question now is who will benefit politically from the supercommittee’s success-that-looks-like-a-failure. The first poll on the matter, by Quinnipiac, says the public blames Republicans more than Democrats by a margin of 46-38, which isn’t that dramatic a spread. It appears the White House thinks it can make hay out of this, but that is a tricky proposition. President Obama may want to run against a do-nothing Congress the way Harry Truman did. But the more Obama concentrates his rhetorical attention on how the system is broken, the weaker he may come to seem to voters, who ordinarily don’t accept the contention of presidents that their power and authority are insufficient to get the job done.

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Poll Shows Problems for Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street activists have been claiming victory over the “narrative” recently, but according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, most Americans are simply ignoring them:

A new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that the “Occupy” movement has failed to capture the attention of a majority of Americans, indicating either ambivalence toward it or lack of interest.

The poll finds that 56 percent of Americans surveyed are neither supporters nor opponents and 59 percent say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about the movement’s goals.

The survey, however, does show an increase from 20 percent to 31 percent in disapproval of the way the protests are being conducted.

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Occupy Wall Street activists have been claiming victory over the “narrative” recently, but according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, most Americans are simply ignoring them:

A new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that the “Occupy” movement has failed to capture the attention of a majority of Americans, indicating either ambivalence toward it or lack of interest.

The poll finds that 56 percent of Americans surveyed are neither supporters nor opponents and 59 percent say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about the movement’s goals.

The survey, however, does show an increase from 20 percent to 31 percent in disapproval of the way the protests are being conducted.

The poll was taken during the weekend, which means that it took place after the Occupy “Day of Action” and multiple city evictions last week. The activists hoped the evictions would sway public sentiment in their favor, but in fact, the opposite happened. Disapproval of the movement jumped by 11 percent.

The percentage of Americans who say they “don’t know enough to have an opinion” is even more striking. OWS has dominated the news, mainly because the protest campsites were magnets for reporters. Now that the movement has started getting evicted from the parks in major cities, the media attention will probably start to dry up as well. Activists will have a hard time keeping the protests relevant and in the news cycle, which means the 60 percent of Americans who say they aren’t familiar with the movement probably never will be.

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An Apology to Mika Brzezinski

Yesterday, I wrote that at its best, conservatism is open to self-examination, reflection and refinement. Now’s my chance to put it into effect.

On Monday, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” responded to a comment made by Newt Gingrich during the weekend regarding Occupy Wall Street. I thought then, and I think now, that Brzezinski’s comments (as well as those by Jeffrey Sachs) were inappropriate and overdone. I’m still mystified by them. But in my comments about Brzezinski, I crossed a line, moving away from using the incident to highlight the emotional investment liberals have in OWS to targeting Brzezinski. Being tough in offering a critique is one thing; being gratuitous is another. There’s quite enough of that going on these days in political discourse without me adding to it.

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Yesterday, I wrote that at its best, conservatism is open to self-examination, reflection and refinement. Now’s my chance to put it into effect.

On Monday, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” responded to a comment made by Newt Gingrich during the weekend regarding Occupy Wall Street. I thought then, and I think now, that Brzezinski’s comments (as well as those by Jeffrey Sachs) were inappropriate and overdone. I’m still mystified by them. But in my comments about Brzezinski, I crossed a line, moving away from using the incident to highlight the emotional investment liberals have in OWS to targeting Brzezinski. Being tough in offering a critique is one thing; being gratuitous is another. There’s quite enough of that going on these days in political discourse without me adding to it.

I understand these things are subjective. But on reflection it’s clear to me, at least, that I shouldn’t have said what I did. Others have a different style, but it’s not how I’d like to conduct myself in my commentary on people and events. I certainly don’t agree with what Brzezinski said. In this case, though, it doesn’t matter. She’s owed an apology by me, which she now has.

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Holy Sites Are the Conflict in Microcosm: Jews Are Willing to Share, Arabs Aren’t

As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has embarked on a campaign to expunge Jewish history by relabeling Jewish holy sites as Muslim ones. But this battle over the religious identity of holy sites deserves more Western attention than it has gotten, because it’s a perfect example of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has remained unsolvable for decades: The Jews are willing to share, but the Arabs aren’t.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron– one of the sites that UNESCO, at the PA’s request, recently declared exclusively Islamic – is a prime example. Under Israeli control, the tomb has been simultaneously an active synagogue and an active mosque for 44 years, a situation unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Most days of the year, it’s open to worshippers of both faiths; on a handful of Jewish and Muslim holy days, it’s open only to worshippers of the celebrating faith. At no point has Israel ever sought to make the site exclusively Jewish; it has willingly shared it with Palestinian Muslims.

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As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has embarked on a campaign to expunge Jewish history by relabeling Jewish holy sites as Muslim ones. But this battle over the religious identity of holy sites deserves more Western attention than it has gotten, because it’s a perfect example of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has remained unsolvable for decades: The Jews are willing to share, but the Arabs aren’t.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron– one of the sites that UNESCO, at the PA’s request, recently declared exclusively Islamic – is a prime example. Under Israeli control, the tomb has been simultaneously an active synagogue and an active mosque for 44 years, a situation unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Most days of the year, it’s open to worshippers of both faiths; on a handful of Jewish and Muslim holy days, it’s open only to worshippers of the celebrating faith. At no point has Israel ever sought to make the site exclusively Jewish; it has willingly shared it with Palestinian Muslims.

Contrast that with the view of the Tomb expressed last year by one of Hebron’s most prominent Muslim clerics: “It is a pure Muslim holy place and there is no right for non-Muslims to be here or to pray here, and I’m against the presence of the Jews, even in the old city,” Haj Zeid al Ja’bari, general director of Islamic Religious Authorities in Hebron, told reporters. No willingness to share there.

That attitude can be seen in action on the Temple Mount, where Israel, in a misguided burst of generosity, ceded de facto control to the Islamic waqf (religious trust) immediately after capturing the site in 1967: Jews and Christians are barred from praying there; they are not even allowed to read the Bible or move their lips in silent prayer. The Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, to which Jews have prayed thrice daily for millennia. But the Arabs aren’t willing to share there, either.

What’s true of the holy sites is equally true of the land as a whole. Israel has repeatedly offered to share the land with the Palestinians, from its acceptance of the UN partition plan in 1947 to Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a state in 2000 and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s even more generous offer in 2008. And every time, the Palestinians said no.

But because a comprehensive peace deal is so complex, involving so many different and contentious issues, it’s easy for Westerners to focus on the trees rather than the forest: to delude themselves that a deal could be reached if only Israel offered a little more here or demanded a little less there, rather than grasping the overall pattern of Palestinian rejectionism.

That’s why it’s worth zooming in on a single, small issue, like the Tomb of the Patriarchs. There’s no welter of competing interests here, no multiplicity of
possible trade-offs such as borders versus security, Jerusalem versus the refugees. Just proven Israeli willingness to share the site, and proven Palestinian refusal to do so.

And until that Palestinian refusal changes, peace will never be possible.

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